It’s not every day that The Times has a leader column on the construction industry. Yet today (5thMay), their third leader is headlined, “The Times view on the new generation of pre-manufactured housing: Prefab Fabulous.”
In essence, this article welcomes the development of pre-manufactured housing, saying that it’s good for the environment, good for quality control and much quicker than traditional housebuilding. It’s popular in Sweden, Germany and Japan and very recently in the UK a leading insurance group “has received planning consent for its first housing development made up of homes built in a factory.”
Crucially, the piece says that the use of pre-fab houses “does away with much of the subcontracting that can slow construction. Such improvements in efficiency will be important if the government is to meet its target of 300,000 new homes a year by the mid-2020s.”
This chimes with my recent blogs about the current crisis accelerating the use of robots in construction. Yet in all this, there is a human cost. For the same reasons the Chancellor has introduced furlough and loans to businesses to help them get through this, I suspect that the building industry will need to think long and hard before simply discarding the labour force that has made it successful up to now. And while I don’t expect the robots to take over immediately and I also acknowledge, as The Times says, that construction has an ageing workforce, our sector needs to think long and hard ahout how best to transition from a labour-intensive industry to one with far more automation, pre-fabrication and use of AI. The price of these things will be one key consideration but it’s really hard to get a handle on just how much they cost. However, I have been doing some digging and will have some further thoughts on this presently … watch this space.
Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment